The Time Has Come for Roma Integration in Lithuania
On the 21st March the world celebrated the International Day of Elimination of Ethnic and Racial Discrimination and the European-wide Action Week against Racism lasted from 17th to 25th of March. The motto of this year is „Racism must neither be tolerated nor ignored – Let’s confront it united!“ In order to conclude this week we speak out regarding one of the most urgent topics in Lithuania – Roma Integration.
In Lithuania eight Roma organisations and organisations working for the Roma have united to fight anti-Gypsyism and Romaphobia. These organisations are the Lithuanian Roma Association “Gypsy Fire”, Lithuanian Young Falcon Union, Lithuanian Centre for Human Rights, Lithuanian Children’s Fund, National Institute for Social Integration, Roma Integration House, Roma Community Centre, Social Employment Centre “SOPA”.
Recently the Lithuanian society has been confronted with a lot of negative information concerning the Roma: pogrom-like attacks in Švenčionėliai, Roma house demolitions in Kirtimai settlement in Vilnius, misleading stories were spread about Roma, who allegedly refused proposed social housing without serious reasons. Moreover, the Mayor of Vilnius shared the information about plans to remove Kirtimai settlement from Vilnius.
Abovementioned plans are formulated by using solely negative vocabulary – to evict, to fight, etc. However, none of these plans discusses the future of the people concerned. The Roma, who work and pay taxes, who aspire to a different lifestyle, are not mentioned at all. There are no discussions on the efforts of the Roma children to stay in rather unfriendly school environment, nor on the attempts of adults to get a job and the humiliation they constantly face. No-one asks the question why the Roma children are not given Lithuanian citizenship automatically and why some adults who were born in Lithuania have just a permanent residence permit, but not full-pledged Lithuanian citizenship. According to the Centre of Ethnic Studies, the Roma continues to be one of the most disliked groups in Lithuanian society and these trends seem to strengthen in the past couple of years. Politicians and political parties abuse this group too often in order to increase their ratings and to imitate the problem-solving. However, working on solving the social problems of Roma as well as other vulnerable groups should be regarded as an obligation, and not a choice of the government.
The organisations support the recent initiative of the Ministry of Culture to prepare National Roma Integration Strategy. As a reaction to the „Action Plan on Roma integration into Lithuanian society 2012-2014“, prepared by the Ministry of Culture and contributing to the work on Roma integration on the national level, the organisations prepared and submitted to the Government and the Parliament detailed evaluation of the situation of Roma in Lithuania with strategic comments about the approaches to the problems. Segregation of Roma is a result of not only long-lasting discrimination and lack of recognition of this community as a part of the society, but also a result of ignoring the social problems on the national level.
Concerns were expressed regarding the discrepancy between the adopted Action Plan and the provisions of the Communication from the European Commission „On European Union Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies”, especially as it relates to the requirements on structure, purposes, finance, monitoring and coordination. The EC Communication distinguishes four priority areas where Roma integration should be carried out and where Roma community face strongest discrimination: 1. Housing; 2. Education; 3. Employment; 4. Healthcare. Unfortunately, the housing and healthcare issues are not discussed in the Action Plan and much more attention could be given to the key challenges in the areas of education and employment.
The EC emphasises that the Roma integration strategy can only be effective, if a strong inter-institutional cooperation as well as coordination and responsibilities for the tasks are ensured. Therefore, the organisations are asking the Lithuanian Government to establish strategic goals and ensure strong inter-institutional cooperation as well as to prioritise the Roma integration strategy by adopting it at governmental level and not as a decree at ministerial level[BS1] .
According to the EC, the Roma integration strategy has to be implemented at national level. The Action plan pays attention only to the Roma residing in the Kirtimai settlement. The organisations are also concerned that municipalities are in charge of many decisions that relate to the real and effective integration of Roma (for example, social housing, support for schools, social assistance for families, local access to healthcare, etc). Despite this fact, the municipalities are not included in the Action Plan.
Therefore the Government of Lithuania, together with the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Social Security and Labour, the Ministry of Education and Science, the Ministry of Health Security, and the respective Committees of the Lithuanian Parliament as well as other relevant governmental bodies, such as Ombudsmen institutions, are invited to prepare National Roma Integration Strategy, corresponding to the requirements of the Communication from the European Commission, but most important – to the actual needs of Roma population in Lithuania.
The organisations encourage governmental institutions to unite in preparing the strategy together with the Roma community and NGOs, to incorporate academic researches and proposals. Eight organisations, submitting the remarks, are willing to cooperate and to specify the comments during the meetings. Moreover, they are willing to cooperate in order to achieve the strategic goals.
For more information, please contact:
Roma Community Centre
List of the organizations:
Lithuanian Roma Association “Gypsy fire”, Chairman Josif Tyčina, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Lithuanian Young Falcon Union, Chairwoman Inesa Karsten, e‐mail email@example.com
Lithuanian Centre for Human Rights, Lawyer Birutė Sabatauskaitė, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Lithuanian Children’s Fund, Director Romualda Navikaitė, e-mail email@example.com
National Social Integration Institute, Director Neringa Jurčiukonytė, e‐mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Roma Integration House, Interim Chairwoman Božena Karvelienė, e-mail email@example.com
Roma Community Centre, Director Svetlana Novopolskaja, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Social Employment Centre „SOPA”, Interim Director Aiva Salatkienė, e‐mail email@example.com